Professor Eugene Khartukov looks into the methods of oil measurements implemented in the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia, and concludes that the US is the largest oil producer in the world
It is widely accepted that the current top oil producers are the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia, who altogether in 2019 produced some two fifths of the world’s oil.
Statistics from BP show the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia produced 746.7, 568.1 and 556.6 million tonnes of crude oil and other oil liquids (NGL) respectively in 2019, or nearly 42 per cent of the world total (Figure 3).
• Russia: In 2016 end, Russia once again became the world’s largest oil producer, outstripping the US and Saudi Arabia, who had held that place for five years. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), Russia’s crude oil and lease condensate production was 10.551 mbpd in 2015, 10.58 mbpd in 2016, 10.759 mbpd in 2017, and 10.847 mbpd in 2018. (Table 3).
In 2019, up to 80 per cent of Russia’s recoverable oil reserves was associated with operating oil fields while the share of hard-to-recover oil reserves was estimated at 60 per cent. It is worth noting that Russia’s remaining oil reserves are considered hard-to-recover and located quite unevenly.
Most oil reserves are concentrated at 11 unique and 179 large fields, in mainly the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug (KhMAO) in Western Siberia. These constitute 70 per cent of total reserves and account for two thirds of oil production in the country.
In December 2016, as part of the Opec+ deal, Russia pledged to cut production by 300,000 bpd while Saudi Arabia agreed to the largest production cut, by 486,000 bpd. It was decided to decrease collective oil production until 2019-end by 1.2 mbpd. Then in Q1 2020, the combined output cut was set at 1.7 mbpd.
Table 3: Top global oil producer rankings
In December 2019, Russia managed to exclude gas condensate from national pledges to bring them in line with Opec quotas. As a result, at the end of 2019, Russia would lower its oil output by a new basic level of 10.626 mbpd (instead of 11.421 mbpd) and only by 300,000 in 1Q 2020.
However, neither the Russian statistical state agency, Roscomstat, nor the CDU TEK, Russian Ministry of Energy’s (Minenergo) official information service, reported Russian oil production excluding condensate. And since the beginning of 2020, Minenergo started to falsify Russian oil production data to make them more consistent with the Opec + pledge.
• Saudi Arabia: With over 260 known oil reserves, the Kingdom is the world’s largest holder of conventional oil. It can keep production at 12 mbpd until, at least, 2033. It also has the world’s largest spare capacity in oil production.
According to the US EIA, Saudi Arabia’s production was as follows: 10.168 mbpd in 2015; 10.461 mbpd in 2016; 10.134 mbpd in 2017; 10.425 mbpd in 2018, and 9.826 mbpd in 2019. The Kingdom’s quarterly oil production has gone down from 9.884 mbpd in Q4 2019 to 8.821 mbpd in Q3 2020.
According to London-based CEIC Data services, Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production (excluding condensate or other field NGLs) was only 8.963 mbpd (Figure 7) in November 2020.
Oil production peaked in 2016 (at nearly 12.41 mbpd), ranking second in the world, but has been dropping ever since.
Currently, Saudi production comes mostly from five giant oilfields: Ghawar, Safaniya, Hanifa, Khurais and Zuluf, all of which are more than 70 years old. They have over the years accounted for more than 90 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, with Ghawar alone accounting for 50 per cent of the total.
Ghawar in the Eastern Province is the largest conventional oil field in the world, measuring 280 km by 30 km. Discovered in 1948 it started production in 1951. The field holds an estimated 170 billion barrels of oil, with some 140 billion barrels regarded as recoverable.
In April 2020, disagreements on production cuts between Saudi Arabia and Russia as part of an Opec+ deal ended and cuts of nearly 10 mbpd were pledged. As a result, the average spot price of Brent blend and Dubai and WTI crudes went up and stabilised at around $40 per cent in Q3 2020.
• USA: In October 2018, thanks to aggressively growing shale oil (tight oil) production, the US produced 11.554 mbpd of crude oil and lease condensate, according to the EIA, overtaking Russia as the world’s largest oil producer (Table 3).
Figure 13: Difference in oil volumes according to US and Russian measurements
The largest oil-producing fields (formations) in the US include Permian in Texas and in New Mexico, Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, and Bakken in North Dakota and Montana, Prudhoe Bay field in northern Alaska (the largest oil field in North America, discovered in 1967 and spread across 213,543 acres), Wattenberg Field in Colorado (producing both gas and oil), Shenzi in the Gulf of Mexico, Kuparuk River in northern Alaska, west of the Prudhoe Bay, Midway-Sunset in California, Atlantis in the Gulf of Mexico, and Sugarkane field in Texas.
Overall, the 100 top oilfields/formations account for over 55 per cent of the country’s proved oil reserves (more than 26.5 out of 47.1 billion barrels at the end of 2018) and nearly half of its oil production.
As per the EIA, the average field oil production in the US was 12.781 mbpd in 2015, 8.852 mbpd in 2016, 9.371 mbpd in 2017, 10.964 mbpd in 2018, and 12.248 mbpd in 2019. Production was predicted to go slightly down by 2050 to 11.96 mbpd. This included tight-oil production, which was 7.99 mbpd (65 per cent of the total) in 2019 and predicted to be 8.74 mbpd (73 per cent) in 2050.
Within its near-term forecast, EIA expects US crude oil production to fall from the 12.25 mbpd in 2019 to 11.3 mbpd in 2020 and 11.1 mbpd in 2021. The estimated pandemic-driven 0.8 mbpd year-over-year output fall in 2021 is the largest annual decline in US crude oil production on record.
It is important not to overlook the fact that available oil production data usually relates to the production of crude oil plus lease (or mixed/field) condensate. Bearing in mind the differences in measuring oil volumes at standard temperature and pressure (STP), which are currently accepted in Russia and the US, it’s noteworthy that in order to bring the Russian oil volumes (measured at 20 deg C and 760 mmHg) at US conditions (60 deg F and 14.696 psia) one needs to decrease the Russian volume by 1.54 per cent (Figure 13).
Overall, if we consider a period since the mid 1980s, when Russia started publishing oil production data), the slot for top oil producer kept changing between the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Until 1991 it was Russia, then from 1992 to 2008, Saudi Arabia took the status of the biggest oil-producer, and then for a short time (2009-10) it was overtaken by Russia again.
In 2011 Saudi Arabia took Number 1 position and remained there until 2013. For two years after that, the US became the top oil producer for the first time, followed by Russia for the next two years, before US clinched it back again. Since 2018, the US producers the largest amount of oil thanks to its fast-growing tight oil production (Table 3).
However, if we consider only crude oil, excluding lease/field condensate or any other NGLs, a lot of which is produced in Russia – on an average, some 0.75 mbpd in the recent years or around 7 per cent of its total oil output; and in the US – 5.4 mbpd in 2019), some differences in the world’s supremacy in 1985, 1991, 2014-2015 and 2018 occur but they, though important for those years, do not considerably change the general picture.
* Eugene Khartukov is a professor at the Moscow State Institute/University for International Relations (MGIMO MFA), Head of the World Analyses and Forecasting Group (GAPMER) and of the Center for Petroleum Business Studies (CPBS) and Vice President (for Eurasia) of the Geneva-based Petro-Logistics. He is the author of more than 360 publications on oil, gas and energy forecasting and speaker at over 170 international forums.